Monday, 28 November 2016

INTERVIEW - Adam El Hagar, Licensed To Ill, Southwark Playhouse

This November marks 30 years since the famed Licensed To Ill album was released by the Beastie Boys.
Now the story of hip-hop’s most notorious pranksters will be revealed in a big-hearted, brash new theatre production.
Licensed To Ill is an eclectic theatre-gig mash up which follows Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock as they go from teenage punks to international rapping superstars, and features hits such as Intergalactic and Fight For Your Right. 
This unofficial journey through hip hop history is being staged at the Southwark Playhouse from tomorrow until Christmas Eve and comes hot on the heels of a sell out run at Camden’s People’s Theatre and a UK tour.
And as one of its stars, actor Adam El Hagar tells me, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an original Beasties fan or a complete newcomer to the band, this celebratory production will have you rhyming, laughing and gasping in equal measure.
But he says the origins of the piece began a few years ago and from somewhat inauspicious circumstances.
“It all started about three years ago when I had a lot less acting work,” he explains. “My mate Simon got me a job flyering and in an exceptional long shift at Charing Cross Theatre we started rapping as we were handing out the leaflets to make it more interesting.
“It gave me the seed of an idea that as we were both theatre makers wouldn’t it be great way of selling a show about hip hop and its history.
“This idea grew and changed a bit until we hit upon the idea of making it about a specific group. Simon was a huge fan of the Beastie Boys and suggested it be about them and although I wasn’t as big a fan as Simon, I liked their music a lot and I thought it was a cool and super awesome idea.”
The subject sorted it was then down to the guys to write the script, fit the songs around it, and research the band in more depth before approaching theatre spaces to get it staged.
“I went home and listened to all their albums and thought it was the best idea ever!” laughs Adam. “The Beastie Boys are so theatrical and funny and it was one of the things we wanted to portray, that and the fact they were one of the pioneers of hip hop. 
“We covered Simon’s flat with a time line of Beastie Boys history and what we wanted to do with the show.
“I realised they had quite a comic element to them, a bit slapstick and if you watch their interviews their jokes are really funny to them rather than the audience which is quite a cool thing to nail. We have a lot of that in the show.”
Camden’s People’s Theatre approached them to put on the show and it was such a success that they’ve decided to bring it back.
Adam says it’s also given them a chance to tinker with the script and tighten it up.
“We are so excited to be bringing it to the Southwark Playhouse,” he says. “It’s the perfect space for it and it will run up to Christmas which is great.
“We’ve freshened it up a bit as well, made it a bit snappier and focused it more on the narrative so that we properly tell their story and I think it’s the best it’s ever been now. 
“And to be able to coincide it with the 30th anniversary of the album, which was groundbreaking, is brilliant.”
The show features a live DJ, rapping and music - but Adam is keen to stress it’s not a musical in the strict sense of the word, rather a play with music.
It shows how the band started out with them hearing hip hop on the subway and follows how their career developed and progressed and the making of the album. 
And Adam says it also asks the audience questions such as why it took three middle class jewish boys to make hip hop mainstream and how they influenced and inspired and were respected by other musicians then and now.
“Hip hop is still the biggest selling music genre of all time,” he says. “There is incredible poetry in the early stuff, yet actually as a genre it’s not that old. However it’s incredible to think that this album is now 30 years old. 
“Our show has a lot of energy to it and once we start we don’t stop for 75 minutes so you have to hold onto your hats!
“But it’s great fun and for anyone, whether you know their music or not, you will get a lot out of it.”
Sadly MCA died a few years ago. I ask if the remaining Beastie Boys have given any feedback on the show.
“We’ve not heard if they have seen it or if they have whether or not they like it but we know some of their friends have seen it and praised it,” says Adam.
“I’d absolutely love it if they came along - in fact they have an open invitation to do so while we are at the Southwark Playhouse - as it would be great to see what they think.
“I hope they would love it as much as we have enjoyed creating it and think of it as a celebration of their music and their legacy.”

Licensed To Ill is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway between November 30 and December 24. Tickets cost £20, £16 concessions. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

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